Peak(s):  Colony Baldy  -  13,705 feet
Date Posted:  12/03/2020
Date Climbed:   06/22/2020
Author:  supranihilest
 Sunrise on the Colony   


I woke up at 1:30am. My alarm was set for 2am and the extra half hour of sleep would have been nice, but it wasn't to be today, I was too wired. I rustled around in the van and got ready. Whiley and I were going for a sunrise climb of Colony Baldy, a bicentennial thirteener just north of fourteener Humboldt Peak, so that we could get some nice alpenglow shots of the Crestones. I dressed and received a text from Whiley - she needed more sleep and would go later in the morning. She'd just have to see the photos I took later!

I was on the trail just after 2:10am. Gross, I know. I followed the spur from the trailhead southwest for about half a mile to the Rainbow Trail, then continued south. Since the Rainbow Trail is a combined hiking/horse/ATV trail it's nice and mellow in steepness and generally not covered in a ton of loose rock. The morning air was cool, crisp, and perfect for hiking quickly and not overheating. I love that about night hiking - no oppressive heat. I took the trail for another three miles up gentle switchbacks to just beyond the Macey trail. A few tenths of a mile past that is the best place to leave the Rainbow Trail and head southwest into the forest, accessing the northernmost lobe of Colony Baldy's vast north-northeast ridge. Total distance to this point was about three and a half miles and went by quickly.

Once in the forest things slowed down considerably. The angle of the ridge was low but the sides dropped away; this was a dead giveaway that I was where I was supposed to be. There were a few tiny, two or three rock cairns scattered here and there but the lower part of the ridge was largely without a trail. A few hundred yards in and a faint trail appeared. It too was cairned but had to have been a game trail that was co-opted by people.

This faded in and out but I stuck with it for quite a ways.

Finding the trail wasn't a necessity, since I could basically just go up on this one, but it did provide some psychological comfort in the darkness. Easy peak or not, darkness changes things. I lost and found the trail as I ascended until the trail ended suddenly on the steep southern flank of the ridge. I didn't have much of a choice besides ascend directly up the hillside, which was steep but grassy and stable. A couple hundred feet took me back to the ridge crest, where I found yet another trail, and then soon to treeline.

Above treeline the route was obvious. It was still completely black out but I was making good time, so I put my head down and cranked out the elevation, only stopping because I encountered a cliff on the ridge's northwest side. Cliffs in the darkness always give me the heebie jeebies. There's something about that gaping black chasm with death at the bottom that just sets off those alarm bells.

Small cliff on the ridge.

I skirted up the cliffs until they ended, which is where the ridge also rounded off. At this point it was just a simple tundra hike to the top.

Not the summit, but close.
Sunrise over the Wet valley.

As I neared a false summit Humboldt Peak stood proud to the south.

Ol' Humdinger.

Cresting the false summit I found myself still a short distance from the true summit. I raced up, fearful that I would miss the alpenglow.

A few small rollers but nothing major en route to the summit.

I arrived on the summit to wonderful but not glowing views of the Crestones. Adams, on the other hand, was starting to light right up.

Did I miss it?
Those skies though! From left to right: Point 13,541, Point 13,517 B, Point 13,580 A, Mount Adams A, and Fluted Peak. The big thing on the far left is the ridge dropping off Challenger Point.

A cold wind blew hard on the summit. I threw on my jacket, a windshell, and gloves, and hunkered down behind the completely inadequate summit cairn trying to stay warm. I figured I'd know soon enough if I wasn't going to get my alpenglow, and only a few minutes of freezing later I got exactly what I had come for: Illumination with a capital I.

The Crestones bathed in Sangre de Cristo.
Kit Carson massif.

My fingers were stiff and clumsy and I took a few dozen more photos than I needed, but it had been worth it. Happy with the results of the day, the Crestones having transitioned through red to yellow to their usual brown, I began down the ridge.

A Colony afire.
Middle part of the ridge.

Despite the advantage of height I veered too far to descender's left and ended up getting too close to the steep drop-off to the northwest. I traversed back across a basic but loose Class 2 gully and small, scruffy cliff band and back to the northeast ridge itself.

The only real Class 2 section of the day, everything else was trail, forest, or tundra.

Once back on the proper path I had views of the cliff I nearly walked off in the darkness earlier in the morning.

A good chunk of the middle ridge.
Closeup of the cliff. Doesn't look like very good rock at all.

Continuing down I was able to get an eyeful of treeline and the forest, where I could plan my general descent down the snaking ridge. It was the same route I'd come up before but everything was brand new in the daylight!

It should be obvious why staying on the ridge crest is the best course of action. The Rainbow Trail is somewhere in the trees to the far right.

When I hit treeline I stopped to change out of my jackets, which by now were overkill. I put on my sun gear to cover my tattoos, found a great trail in the trees, and happily made my way down, trying to follow it as best as I could.

Probably another game trail but it took me where I needed to go.

When I got to the lower ridge I once again lost the trail. Deadfall here was copious and a new trail hadn't been established. I traversed the steep north flank of the ridge with Macey Creek thundering below and made it back to the Rainbow Trail after a short and confusing section in the trees. Once back on the trail I ran back to the trailhead, only passing a single other hiker. Whiley was just getting ready to head up so I wished her luck, hopped into the van, and logged in for a day of work right there at the trailhead. What a great way to spend the morning! A pleasant hike, blood red, rugged mountains, and a day's work. It don't get much better than that.


Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself)
Trailhead: Horn Creek
Total distance: 12.81 miles
Total elevation gain: 4,848 feet
Total time: 5:56:53
Peaks: One ranked thirteener

  • Colony Baldy, 13,705'


Starting Location Ending Location Via Time (h:mm:ss) Cumulative Time (h:mm:ss) Rest Time (m:ss)
Horn Creek Trailhead Colony Baldy 3:18:43 3:18:43 22:16
Colony Baldy Horn Creek Trailhead 2:15:54 5:56:53 Trip End

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25

Comments or Questions
I can feel it infusing light into my soul
12/04/2020 08:21
Pic no.1 is pure mountain magic

Excellent report
12/05/2020 17:27
That photograph of kit carson was wonderful.Nice, seldom seen angle of that mountain in a picture.
Looked like a lot of fun.

12/07/2020 11:30
@Whiley: I'm more of a Voodoo People.

The Voodoo, who do
What you don't dare do, people

@ltlFish99: Thank you! The views of KC from nearly all of the Horn Creek Trailhead peaks are amazing. From further north it looks like a giant alien head!

sunrise inspo
03/29/2021 13:07
What I need to see. Thanks.

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